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Religion and science: A Stanford conference

Tom Moore replies to my statement: "It is politically correct to say that the US respects all religions as though they were all equal. This is absurd. They all hold different tenets, so either all are wrong or at most one is right. My own position is that Christianity is the least wrong". Tom says:

"As an atheist I believe they are all wrong, but if I were to choose to believe one of these "fairy tales" I would choose Islam stripped of its medieval moral codes and practices. It contains fewer miracles and is based on an individual's relationship to God (Allah), not operating through some bureaucratic organization that requires a particular ritual with some individuals who intercede to God for you. Islam is simple and straight forward with one God, not three as most versions of Christianity, that one prays to.

As you indicated at the time of Christ it was common to stone sinners. Muslims are caught in a time warp as far as their moral code is concerned, but Christianity moved out of the same practices and so can Islam".

My reply: Come, Tom. You are not an atheist but an agnostic, which all sensible people are in one degree or another. Atheists are people who are absolutely sure no god exists; they are the mirror image of fundamentalists, who believe that own the absolute truth about god. That goes for many established religions, including Islam, although Christians have long spoken about the "magnum misterium", or, as St. Paul put it: "We see in a mirror, darkly". As for "bureaucratic organizations", what you say is true of Sunni Islam, but not of Shiite Islam. Look at Iran. The Catholic Church has a "bureaucratic organization" in spades, but many Protestant groups reject that setup, on the basis of Christ's words, exhorting us not to pray in public places but to withdraw to our inner chamber.

"Fairy tales" is a loaded expression, and I agree that miracles are such, but the divinity of Christ I view as a metaphor in which there is a profound truth, as there is in the concept of the Holy Spirit. Tom is an economist, and God cannot be renewed to numbers. Shakespeare must have said "There are more things in heaven and earth,Tom, than are dreamed of in thine economics". The real problem is to reconcile the profound truths of religion with science, and I have repeatedly praised the Templeton Foundation for supporting attempts to reconcile faiths, and faith with science. It was therefore heartening that it sponsored at Stanford last week a conference promoting a dialog between science and religion. It dealt largely with religion in an anthropological context. It is the beginning of a three-year program, and it should become a permanent feature of Stanford intellectual and spiritual life, bringing in a broader concept of science and of religion.

It takes me back to my days at Christ Church, Oxford, whose Dean "Soapy" Williams argued with the Darwinians (Darwin himself was not there). This encounter was the beginning of the debate between religion and science. The Oxford meeting was confrontational. Dean Williams said said he would be happy to leave the ancestors of the Darwinians in the trees if they would leave his in Heaven. The Stanford meetings should be less confrontational.

I almost forgot Tom. He is a courageous man defending Islam, which is politically incorrect. Political incorrectness is the mark of a good WAISer. Good for Tom!

Ronald Hilton - 5/23/02